The Revolutionary Struggle against Daesh and the Imperialist Aggression in the Middle East

Statement of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 28.02.2017,




1.            The emergence of Daesh (which is the Arabic abbreviation of al-Dawlah al-Islāmiyyah fī al-Iraq wa al-Shām or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has created enormous dangers for the Arab Revolution and at the same time provoked ongoing military aggression by the imperialist Great Powers in the Middle East. It is essential for revolutionaries to have a correct and precise understanding of this organization as well as of the appropriate tactics to be used in relation to it.


2.            The historic origins of Daesh go back to the aftermaths of imperialist occupation of Iraq in 2003. In October 2004 a group called Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (English: Organization of Monotheism and Jihad) led by the Jordanian national Abu Musab al-Zarqawi pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and became Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Al-Zarqawi adopted a Salafi-Takfiri ideology (one that espouses physical Jihad, while at the same time basing itself on returning to what it conceives as “true” Sunni Islam and accusing Muslims of other persuasions of being apostates or infidels), and combined resistance to the US occupation with an extreme sectarian policy aimed at the expulsion and mass killing of Shiites. His extreme sectarian policy was even criticized by Osama bin Laden who wanted to focus the terrorist struggle against the imperialists and their local agents and not against the Shiite civilian population. In short, AQI acted as a backward, sectarian and reactionary force inside the anti-occupation resistance, since it obstructed the construction of an alliance of the Sunni and the Shia workers and peasants against the imperialist occupiers.


3.            For some time, Al-Zarqawi succeeded in rallying the support of many Sunni tribes in the Al-Anbar province of Iraq against the US occupation forces. However, its extreme sectarian policy, as well as its extremist interpretation of the Sharia law, caused many conflicts with the Sunni tribes and the resistance forces in general. Furthermore, US forces invested huge sums to undermine the support by the tribal leaders for AQI so that it could isolate and expel the group (the so-called “Anbar Awakening”). Al-Zarqawi was killed by the Americans in 2006, and after his death his group united with others and formed the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).


4.            Al-Zarqawi’s sectarian policy played a counter-revolutionary role, as it objectively helped the US occupation forces and their Iraqi puppet government under Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, as it divided the Sunni and Shia popular masses. As a result, al-Maliki was able to recruit followers for his militias which fought against the anti-imperialist resistance.


5.            However, the claim, disseminated by those centrists who tail Russian Imperialism, that Al-Zarqawi was an American agent and that his group was controlled by US imperialism is utter nonsense. As revolutionary Marxists, we must differentiate between a given group, the reactionary policy of which objectively helps the interests of its enemy, and a group which actually operates under the auspices and instructions of this enemy. For example, while the Stalinist parties and partisans collaborated with the Anglo-American imperialism during World War II, they were not agents of the latter. In fact, in the case of Iraq, the US together with the Iraqi government killed and imprisoned many leaders and militants of AQI. However, as we stated above, their counter-revolutionary, sectarian policy objectively aided the imperialist occupants..


6.            After a massive setback of AQI in Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who took over the group in 2010, recruited many ex-Baathist Iraqi soldiers and officers. He also extended the area of operation into Syria after the beginning of the revolution there in 2011. In April 2013, al-Baghdadi announced his intention to will combine his forces in Iraq and Syria with Jabhat an-Nurah li-Ahli ash-Shām (al-Nusra Front) and renamed his group “The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant." However, this merger was rejected by the al-Nusra Front. This provoked a long and bitter armed conflict between the two groups and led to the split of ISIL from Al-Qaeda.


7.            In 2014, Daesh experienced a rapid expansion as it captured the Sunni-dominated Iraqi cities of Al-Fallūjah and Al-Ramādī in January of that year, followed by Mosul – Iraq’s second largest city that capitulated without fighting. In addition, Daesh succeeded in capturing large parts of Eastern Syria, with the city of Raqqa as its center. After this victory, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a Caliphate. It conquered the oil fields in eastern Syria, allowing them to fund their operations by selling oil in the international black market. They also financed themselves by demanding ransoms for captured citizens of the West. In the areas it controlled, it functioned as a government providing services to the local resident, while implementing its extremist interpretation of Sharia law.


8.            Daesh acts as a counter-revolutionary force in its frequent, primary targeting of the organizations which are leading resistance struggle (e.g., the Syrian rebels, the Taliban in Afghanistan, al-Shabaab in Somalia) against the imperialist occupation forces or the ruling dictatorships, rather than the main enemy. Consequently, Daesh usually constitutes a direct threat for the resistance struggle against imperialism and its puppet dictatorships.


9.            From the beginning of the Arab Revolution, all imperialist Great Powers viewed it as a threat to their own economic and political interests in the Middle East. Likewise, they nervously recognized the radicalizing effects of that revolutionary process on the Muslim migrant youth in Europe and America. This radicalization accelerated even more as the Great Powers waged brutal military aggression in Syria and Iraq and intensified their support for reactionary dictatorships. The Great Powers’ war against Daesh must be understood in this context.


10.          As a result, US imperialism, in alliance with the imperialist EU governments and numerous Arab regimes, has created an international, Western force. Its primary goal is to defeat the Arab Spring in general and the Syrian Revolution in particular under the pretext of combating Daesh. Similarly, for its own geopolitical reasons, Russian imperialism’s intervention in Syria is also carried out under the pretext of fighting against Daesh “and other terrorists“ (the term with which the imperialists usually dub the popular rebel forces). In December 2016, the Pentagon announced “that some 50,000 Islamic State fighters have been killed since the United States started battling the group more than two years ago” –– Reuters/Alaa Al-Marjani: US officials estimate that some 50,000 Islamic State fighters have been killed so far (Dec 8, 2016 During the same month, Russia claimed to have launched 71,000 airstrikes which were supposed to have eliminated 35,000 “terrorists” (in fact mostly civilians and rebels) –– (Russian Warplanes Eliminate 35,000 Terrorists in Syria, 2016-12-22, In other words, the imperialists themselves admit that they have killed at least 85,000 “terrorists” in Iraq and Syria in the past two years.


11.          This demonstrates once more that, contrary to the claims of various Islamophobic centrists who try to justify their adaption to imperialism, Daesh is not a secret agent of US imperialism. In fact, Daesh is a bitter enemy of the Iraqi government which is supported by Washington with money, weapons, its air force and thousands of elite soldiers. Daesh is also a bitter enemy of the Kurdish militias both in Iraq as well as in Syria, which are supported by the US air force and hundreds of NATO “military advisers.” Thus, we see, Daesh is clearly a reactionary petit-bourgeois organization fighting with fanatical religious, sectarian, counter-revolutionary means against, on the one hand, democratic and national forces opposed to the imperialist occupation and reactionary puppet dictatorships and, on the other hand, against the Great Powers and the forces they back.


12.          Marxists reject explanations of historical and social movements as being the product of secret conspiracies by the Great Powers. A Marxist explanation must begin by analyzing the political and social developments in the region (as well as in the imperialist societies) in recent years. Restating the RCIT’s analysis of Daesh and tactical conclusions as we have developed them in our document World Perspectives 2017, we state that the emergence of such reactionary forces like the Salafi-Takfiri Daesh has been the product of demoralization among sectors of the youth and the rural poor resulting from the defeats of the Arab Revolution. In addition, the intensifying Islamophobic racism and the dire outlook for Muslim migrant youth in the imperialist metropolises are pushing a sector of them into the arms of Daesh. Furthermore, the imperialist war-drive in Syria and Iraq under the banner of “War against IS” and the massive state repression (Muslim youth in Europe are thrown into prison for only sharing a video of Daesh on Facebook!) increase the credibility of Daesh in the eyes of some Muslims as a “revolutionary” and “anti-imperialist” force. These factors – defeats and demoralization, the intensifying Islamophobia, and the imperialist war and repression – are the main sources of strength of Daesh, and not the supposedly secret support of US imperialism or Assad, as many silly leftists claim who replace Marxist political class analysis with obscure conspiracy theories.


13.          Daesh’s social composition is dominated by a coalition of sectors of the impoverished petty-bourgeois intelligentsia and the urban and rural poor. Its policy represents a strange combination of shades of ideological adherence to the struggle against the “infidel” dictators – the driving force of the Arab Revolution – with unlimited counter-revolutionary (one could even say “fascistic”) hatred and repression against each and every form of democratic rights and popular self-governance, in fact against all non-Muslims and even all other strands of Muslims outside of their own sect. Where they establish power, it takes the form of an outright theocratic sectarian dictatorship – in fact its basis is a “deal” with the local bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie: While Daesh usurps complete political and ideological power and imposes its rules with terrorist might it ensures security for the owners of private property. Reports from Daesh-controlled territory show that the highly centralized character of Daesh’s “Caliphate” and the qualitatively less corrupt nature of the Daesh fighters (given their religious commitment) have created more security in public life for many people (provided they submit to Daesh’s strict cultural rules) than this has been the case in areas controlled by Assad or the Bagdad government with all their highly corrupt and rivalling militias. The main desire of Daesh’s leadership is to establish their small “Caliphate” (one could characterize this as an Islamist version of the Stalinist utopia of “socialism in one country”). Such a “Caliphate” represents a theocratic and terroristic dictatorship of a petty-bourgeois, Salafi-Takfiri elite on the basis of a capitalist economy (dominated by small property owners). Hence, Daesh’s vision of a caliphate is nothing else than a dictatorship on the basis of keeping the capitalist property relations – in other words, precisely the opposite of the political freedom for which the workers and poor in Syria and Iraq are fighting.


14.          Despite its (counter)-“revolutionary” rhetoric, this is basically a conservative project and from this flows the principal desire for accommodation with the ruling class by Daesh’s leadership. This is, however, completely utopian, as the whole dynamic of the Arab Revolution, as well as the advancing counterrevolution, leaves no place for such a petty-bourgeois reactionary utopia.


15.          Daesh is an outright and direct enemy of the working class, and must to be defeated by the workers and peasants of the region. Daesh needs to be driven out of every movement which resists imperialism. Its attacks on forces which are fighting against US-imperialism in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, demonstrate how urgent this task is.


16.          However, it is important to understand the contradictory nature of Daesh in a dialectical way. It would be wrong to equate Daesh with such counterrevolutionary reactionary forces like the Basij militia in Iran, which is simply a tool of the ruling class which has held power for decades. Nor would it be correct to equate it with fascist forces like the UDF loyalists in Northern Ireland, which have their origins in the struggle to keep the British imperialist occupation and the sectarian privileges in place. Daesh neither represents an established ruling class or an imperialist power, but has emerged as a reactionary product of a revolutionary process.


17.          The RCIT’s main policy towards Daesh is that it must be fought as a counterrevolutionary force. Only in situations where Daesh is forced to militarily fight against imperialist forces, only in such exceptional situations, would we support its military victory while continuing to denounce it and fight against it politically. In other words, we lend support to the military struggle of Daesh against the imperialist forces but at the same time it is crucial to denounce Daesh as counter-revolutionaries and to unmask their true nature. While in certain situations they might be forced to oppose the forces of imperialism, their program and their strategy can in no way be characterized as anti-imperialist. Furthermore, one cannot exclude the possibility that they seek negotiations with the Great Powers. The workers, peasants and poor of Syria and Iraq are the only force which can really defeat imperialism. Therefore, it is necessary to strengthen all those rebel forces closely connected with the popular masses. Clearly, with the exception of situations involving direct confrontation between the imperialist forces and Daesh, the struggle against Daesh remains of primary importance.


18.          In summary, Daesh represents an arch-reactionary, petty-bourgeois force based on the extremely sectarian Salafi-Takfiri ideology. It is an outright and direct enemy of the working class. However, we emphasize that the biggest murderer of the Syrian people is not Daesh but the Assad regime and their imperialist backers! We, therefore, strongly reject the imperialist, Stalinist and centrist myth that the main character of the Syrian civil war is the war against Daesh. In fact, this is a subordinate element! Revolutionaries support the struggle of the Syrian rebels against Daesh (but certainly not the military campaign of Assad’s mercenaries or of the Bagdad government). Likewise, we support the struggle of Kurdish rebels where they defend Kurdish territory, but not where they advance as lackeys of US and Russian imperialism (e.g., in their attempts to attack Raqqa). Hence, we reject the widespread uncritical praise for the petty-bourgeois nationalist YPG/PKK by most of the Stalinist and pseudo-“Trotskyist” left, as this organization is closely aligned with US and Russian forces, which have hundreds of their “military advisers” among its ranks. In fact, the Stalinist and centrist hype for the YPG/PKK leadership is nothing but a camouflaged adaption to imperialism. However, we continue to support the Kurdish liberation struggle - for a free, red Kurdistan! We call upon Kurdish revolutionaries to combat any involvement by the imperialist Great Powers.


19.          Daesh’s origins in the struggles against dictatorships, state repression in Europe, and the ongoing imperialist war-drive against, all help Daesh to gain some credibility and popularity among sectors of the impoverished layers. Revolutionaries in Europe should oppose the state repression being directed against the migrant youth. Likewise, revolutionaries should stand for the defeat of the Great Powers in any confrontation with Daesh. A defeat for the Great Powers at the hands even of such a reactionary force like Daesh would be a step forward for the global struggle against imperialism, and not a step backward. In contrast to the revisionists, we base our politics on Trotsky’s position that Marxists even defend “fascists” against the “democratic” imperialists, As he wrote at the end of the 1930s: I will take the most simple and obvious example. In Brazil there now reigns a semi-fascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil. I ask you on whose side of the conflict will the working class be? I will answer for myself personally—in this case I will be on the side of “fascist” Brazil against “democratic” Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains on Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship. The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and will give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat. Truly, one must have an empty head to reduce world antagonisms and military conflicts to the struggle between fascism and democracy. Under all masks one must know how to distinguish exploiters, slave-owners, and robbers!” (Leon Trotsky: Anti-Imperialist Struggle is Key to Liberation. An Interview with Mateo Fossa (1938); in: Writings of Leon Trotsky 1938-39, p. 34)




International Secretariat of the RCIT




For more articles on Daesh see:


Yossi Schwartz: Why Revolutionary Marxists Oppose Daesh/ISIL, 15.12.2015,


For our analysis of the Arab Revolution we refer readers to our numerous articles and documents on the Africa and Middle East section of our website:


In particular we refer readers to the following documents:


RCIT: World Perspectives 2017: The Struggle against the Reactionary Offensive in the Era of Trumpism, Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries, 18 December 2016, Chapter IV. The Middle East and the State of the Arab Revolution,


RCIT: World Perspectives 2016: Advancing Counterrevolution and Acceleration of Class Contradictions Mark the Opening of a New Political Phase. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries, 23 January 2016, Chapter IV.2. Counterrevolutionary Offensive: The Retreat of the Arab Revolution Continues Despite Heroic Popular Struggles,


RCIT: Revolution and Counterrevolution in the Arab World: An Acid Test for Revolutionaries, 31 May 2015,